paraphrased by miriam berg
from the After-Channing on December 27, 1964
Published in The Editors, January, 1965, Vol. I No. 1

(It is after midnight on the night of December 27th 1964. John F., Bill H., Chuck S., and Mike W. are sitting in a living room; a large coffeepot and several scattered cups can be seen. They are discussing the publication of a new magazine by their discussion group, known as Ex-Channing II.
        Ex-Channing II was an older generation of the Channing Club, the college age discussion group sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley at Dana and Bancroft, just next to the University of California. They met every week for more than twenty years after the Church told them they were too old for college age; they drew visitors from all over Berkeley.
        By way of introduction John F. was the spiritual leader of the group, idealistic, energetic, unassertive; Bill H. was another longtime member from Atlanta, Georgia, a master of logical and Socratic discussion; Chuck S. had attended Channing Club in Seattle, Washington before settling in Berkeley, clever, inventive, sardonic; Mike W. was the youngest member of the dialogue, radical, modest, and cheerful.)

John F. Well, what kind of editorial policy are we going to have?

Chuck S. I think we should print everything anyone gives us. Let's have a magazine for free thought, not limited thought.

Bill H. Whoa, now. Let's consider this. Do we want to print articles which might lead to misinterpretation or possible bad consequences for any one of us?

JF. Does that mean we have to censor the articles which are submitted?

Mike W. No, I'm against that. I want to print and discuss controversial subjects.

BH. It's not controversy we want to avoid; we don't want to print anything which might allow people to think we mean something we don't. For example, suppose we get an article advocating use of illegal drugs, giving particulars. and names. This is just bound to get some of us into future trouble through guilt by association.

JF. So it still seems to'me like you are advocating censorship of articles. I think we should have no limitations at all. Take Charlie Brown's letter in favor of free love; most of us disagreed with all or part of it, but I would have printed it exactly as it was, and then, I would have written an equally long rebuttal.

BH. No, it's not censorship at all, it's just prudence. I'm not saying we shouldn't print things we disagree with; it's just when the wording is such as to contain implications which could be misunderstood or dangerous. Here's what I propose: if any article seems objectionable, we can all sit down together, and discuss the wording. For instance, if I say, Do you mean such and such, and you say, Yes, that's what I meant, then we can change the wording so that it is now acceptable to both of us. This is not censorship because it is with the consent of the author.

CS. Well, I think we should form a new group called "The EDITORS" which has nothing to do with Ex-Channing II and who can print anything they please. That way you won't be bothered, Bill.

BH. But that won't accomplish anything if the memberships are the same. Besides, I think Ex-Channing II needs a magazine because we all have important things that only we can say.

CS. Such as what?

BH. Uh, for instance, a Channing bibliography, a Channing list of questions, and also getting across the spirit of our discussions.

CS. That might be hard to do in an article, although it might come out in the magazine itself.

JF. I really think tl1at it is contradictory to the nature of Ex-Channing II discussions and also with the purpose of having a magazine to have a policy which will prevent some things from being printed or said.

BH. Yes, but then Channing discussions are different, what we say doesn't go beyond here. But once something gets into print, you no longer have control over it, or what someone else is going to do with it.


JF. So then I believe that people have enough responsibility to write rationally, say what they mean, consider the effects of what they're saying.

BH. But I can think of examples when people have not written responsibly, and have written things which have ignored the effects upon other people, Charlie Brown's letter, for example. How would you handle these?

JF. Well...

MW. Who are we planning to distribute our magazine to, anyway? To members of Ex-Channing only? Or are we going to try and put it on the magazine stands?

CS. I'd like to reach as many people as possible, and get as many of them to contribute as we can.

BH. That's important, but even if we only distribute among ourselves, it can still fall into the hands of people we might not want it to fall into.

JF. Let's sit down and each write out a statement of what we think the purpose of the magazine is, and try to put together a statement of purpose we all agree on, like we did years ago with the purpose of the proposed Channing Fellowship. of Unitarians.

BH. Do you still have that S. O. P. by the way?

JF. Yes -- in fact, it would be a good thing to print in the magazine.

CS. I wrote down a statement here when we first talked about this a couple weeks ago:
"We, the EDITORS, hereby form a group to promote free thought and the extension of freedom as far as it will carry. We also form to aid in the coming in contact with ideas which would otherwise be unavailable."

BH. So far, so good. Go on!

MW. That sort of sounds like coming out for motherhood and country, etc. My first idea before I brought it up at Channing was to be able to publish on subjects which would more or less shock people outside of Channing. There are things I'd like to say and that others would also, and I'd like to print them.

BH. But not things which would be dangerous to the members of the Club or to the Club itself.

JF. I wrote something just now which is a little more prosaic than Chuck's.
"The name of our magazine shall be "The EDITORS". Our purpose is to publish monthly or so for the following reasons:
a. To provide a written vehicle for the free exchange of ideas.
b. To provide a written record of all our individual ideas.
c. To extend our ideas beyond the membership of Ex-Channing II."

MW. We-ell, I'm not so sure about that "all" there.

BH. Don't see anything wrong with that statement.


JF. But I guess it sidesteps the whole controversy we are confronting among ourselves, that is, what do we do with articles which one of us finds objectionable? Some of us think we should print everything, but Bill expecially feels that we must have some form of censorship.

BH. I don't see how you can call it censorship at all if it is with the consent of the author.

JF. Call it what you want, it is rewriting a person's article for him, and I with Cyrano de Bergerac agree: "My blood curdles at the thought of altering one comma!"

CS. That should be our motto. And how about a witch's hat for our emblem.

BH. But if it is with the author's consent, if he agrees that the re-wordings mean exactly the same thing as he originally wrote, what is the matter with that?

JF. I feel that after I have spent a lot of time thinking out what I want to say and the form to cast it in, I am unwilling to modify the wording because someone might see hidden implications in it. If it means what I mean, I am not going to worry because someone is stupid enough to misinterpret it.

BH. Does this mean you never change your ideas after talking with someone else?

JF. Of course not. If I bring an article to be published in our magazine, and you insist that some passages should be re-worded, you put me into a position of stress as far as revisions are concerned. If we just talk about it and as a result I decide that I really do want to re-word something, then I am not under a condition of stress.

BH. Well, okay, that does seem to put stress on you.

JF. Just what kinds of articles are you afraid of, anyway? You've already mentioned the advocacy of use of illegal drugs, and we have all mentioned Charlie Brown's letter.

BH. Okay, let's see. How about an article written by a known Communist party member advocating violent overthrow of the government? How about someone advocating sexual perversion and assaulting little girls? How about indecency in public?

MH. You know, it occurs to me, suppose an article contains names, dates, places, which could certainly be damaging to particular persons, then I think I would agree with Bill that this ought not to be printed. Or suppose the hypothetical article on drugs concludes with a list of people's names who could be contacted for further information and supplies. That wouldn't be too cool.

BH. Names and dates are easy to omit, because they are concrete and you can point to them. It's the implications, the more abstract articles, that I think we have a responsibility not to be careless about.

CS. I'm not sure how I would feel about editing out a list of names.

JF. Well, I would be willing to edit out such a list, and then add an editor's note explaining that I had done so, and giving the reasons, that I thought it would be damaging to people, etc. For that matter, I would be willing to accept responsibility for editing out anything, but I would always state that I had done it and why.


CS. Then I could write another editor's note saying that I disagreed with editing out the above passages, and write back in what had been censored. Of course, another Editor would have the privilege of striking out my write-in.

MW. How do you react to that, Bill.

BH. Sounds all right, but how are you going to handle the article by a known party member advocating violent overthrow? Thats's just certain to get us all investigated.

JF. Well, I think we should go ahead and print it, and if you insisted, we could put a BIG disclaimer at the beginning and at the end, and if it was really objectionable we could intersperse comments in the article.

CS. We could do that but I think it's really unfair to an author to chop up his article with editor's notes.

MW. Anyway, we're not going to get any article from a party member advocating violent overthrow. None of them have ever written such an article.

BH. How do you know what vre're going to get? You can never tell.

JF. We don't but we shouldn't let that keep us from having a free editorial policy.

MW. Bill, how would you feel about printing the article, with a disclaimer at the end, and then also print an opposing article written by one of us?

BH. I think it almost gets there -- but not quite.

JF. Well, how about this. Have a statement on the first page which would say: "We will print anything submitted except names, dates places. articles advocating illegal acts or violent overthrow of the governement." .'

BH. It doesn't sound too bad, but it could be improved.

CS. Well, it makes me RETCH!

JF. I don't agree with it either, I am just experimenting with statements that Bill can agree with.

MW. How about putting it this way: "We' will print all articles unless we feel that they implicate other persons than the author."

BH. Sounds fine in theory, but I don't think it is workable. For instance, how are you going to determine what are "implications"?

CS. And anyway, what if we don't agree as to the potential consequences of the implications?

JF. I think that all these examples of potentially dangerous subjects are all extremes and unlikely. I think that almost everything we get to print will not be difficult for us to accJpt, and anything that is really for some reason unacceptable to all of us will be pretty clearly so.


CS. I think we should go ahead and publish, and if we ever got an article I really felt we couldn't print, I'd rather terminate publication.

BH. You mean you'd rather see Channing not have a publication than have a protective editorial policy?

CS. I don't want to have to edit articles, nor to reject some person's article. This is an infringement on his freedom of speech, and I want him to have the opportunity to be printed.

JF. You know, one of the things we objected to in Charlie Brown's letter was the reference to Ex-Channing II, since most of us felt he implied that we were all in favor of it, which as I said before was a plain untruth. How about this kind of thing, statements which we think are untrue? Is it sufficient to append editor's notes saying, "This is untrue; the truth is such and such?"

CS. I'd sure hate to do that. In fact I wouldn't.

MW. What if we disagree on that? And anyway, how are we to know sometimes?

BH. Here's an idea; let's print everything we find acceptable, and send all other articles to some other magazine which will print anything.

CS. But that's what we want, a magazine that will print anything.

JF. Let me ask you this, Bill; is what you are asking for that we sit down and go over every sentence of all the articles we get -- and come up with revised wordings acceptable to everyone?

BH. Well, I think that in most of the articles we won't find anything objectionable, but there are bound to be some subjects or statements with dangerous implications, and I am positive that we can get together and discuss the wordings and come up with revisions which are acceptable and which avoid the implications.

JF. I just don't think we are going to get any articles which contain such dangerous implications.

BH. Then why do you object to having a provision against such articles as a known Communist advocating violent overthrow?

JF. I don't want to have a policy of excluding certain articles or statements. If we are never going to get such articles, we don't need such a provision.

BR. But if we are not going to get such articles why do you object to the policy?

JF. (after a pause) well, I think we should go ahead and publish; we could go on like this all week and not get any resolution.

CS. Well, it seems to me like we have gotten somewhere. In the first place, it seems like have given in to Bill considerably if we are ready to edit out certain references to individuals. Also we have listed clearly about five ways of handling "objectionable" articles: first, just print it;


second, print one or two disclaimers before and after the article; third, add editorial comments thruughout the article; fourth, a parallel article presenting the opposite point of view; no, I guess there are six, in increasing order of harshness of policy; fifth, edit out portions pertaining to individuals; and sixth, just not print it.

JF. Except -- for all of us some or all of those alternatives are unacceptable.

BH. Well, I don't want us to rush into publishing something and then have a situation come up we haven't agreed on. I think we should try and have a policy agreed oft beforehand.

JF. Well, I am unwilling to have a formal statement of publishing policy, or a written editorial code. We have reached some understanding of each of our attitudes and the problems we see.

BH. I'm not saying we should have anything written -- I think we need some kind of gentleman's agreement.

JF. Like what? Like a memorized pledge about not printing certain articles?

BR. Not at all; rather like an understanding between us about the risks of publishing certain things and the ways we should handle these articles before printing.

JF. Well, I don't think we should have an editorial policy based on fear.

BH. But, look, if you know that by saying something a certain way you are going to cause a certain result, and you don't want that result, is it fear to say it a different way to avoid that result?

JF. Forget my last statement; I'm not going to try and prove that it really is fear.

BH. (after a pause) Well, (pause) I think we should go ahead and publish. We agree that 95% or more of the material we receive is not likely to prove dangerously misleading, and we also agree that in certain possible unusual cases we would probably all agree that it would be harmful to publish it as submitted. So the only cases we have to worry about are those in which one or more of us thinks something should be altered and one or more of us doesn't.

MW. Well, I'm a1ways willing to concede as a minority of one.

JF. I wonder if Bill is; I think the rest of us are pretty much agreed on the advantages of a completely open editorial policy. This whole thing seems like We are trying to convince Bill that the problems are not as dangerous as he thinks they are.

BH. Well, Chuck's gradient scale of alteration, plus a mutual respect for each other should fill the bill.

JF. It certainly includes several possibilities, but I don't think it was meant to be any kind of a set of rules and regulations.

CS. No, in fact what I meant was to draw a spectrum upon which to place us in our editorial policy; the New York Times would be one place, and we another.